Five Sons at Sea

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During the Second World War, five Macdonald brothers from the village of Valtos, Uig, Isle of Lewis, served at sea. The five sailors were sons of Donald and Christina Macdonald 22 Valtos.

Their mother Christina (nee Maciver), formerly of 25 Valtos, had lost two brothers in the first World War. Norman Maciver serving on a destroyer was swept overboard and lost in 1915 and Murdo Maciver in the Canadian Seaforths was killed in action in France 1916. Donald Macdonald, the father of the five young seamen had served in World War One and contracted malaria, which recurred often. Their uncle John Macdonald, who was in the Merchant Navy in 1939-45, was also a veteran of the 1914-18 war.

Two of the five brothers were lost at sea. Donald Norman, who was called up at the beginning of the war, was lost on HMS Gloucester off Crete in 1941 aged 23 and Murdo who had joined the Merchant Navy, was lost on the SS Empire Comet off Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1942 aged 21. This was the only family in Uig to lose two sons.

The family’s eldest son Duncan worked long hours as a labourer hauling stones to the many croft houses under construction in Valtos at the time. Duncan joined the Merchant Navy in 1935 at the age of twenty one and later as a reservist, was called up at the start of hostilities and was awarded the DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) while serving on HMS Welshman during the relief of Malta in 1942. HMS Welshman was sunk later that year in North Africa and Duncan joined the HMS Orion. After the war Duncan was a weaver and settled in Bragar, Lewis.

Norman Macdonald served on the Silicia and HMS Trouncer, an aircraft carrier built in America in 1940. Later when one of his own sons joined the Merchant Navy in 1966, his first ship was the Benrinnes he was amazed to find it was his father’s old ship the HMS Trouncer coverted back to a conventional cargo ship. After the war Norman returned to Uig and worked, at first, as an insurance agent, then for the Hydro, when the electricity came to Valtos in 1952. After that he worked on the building of the RAF Camp at Aird Uig and worked in the camp as a civilian until the camp closed in 1955. Norman was married in Valtos and died in 1989.

John Macdonald (Tochaidh) lived at the family croft at 22 Valtos and said: “I had an enlisting deferment for nine months as Donald Norman and Murdo had been lost, then I was enlisted in 1943. Murdo was called up and never returned, Donald Norman had one leave before he was lost. The only time I met my brother Norman during the war was in Glasgow, in my cousins house, Norman was going on leave and my leave was over.

“I remember the D-Day landings in France. I was on the Emphatic at Arromanches the part of the coast where the British were landing. I had been up all night and went to get my head down, suddenly the loud firing started and I couldn’t sleep. I went up on deck and saw the Orion about 20 metres away, my brother Duncan was on it. Another time the Orion was going into Malta and passed us on the way out. That was as close as I got to meeting Duncan during the war years.

“Duncan and Norman were demobbed at the end of the war, but as the Emphatic was an American tug crewed by British Merchant Navy men they didn’t send replacement crews and we were sent to the Philippines. It took me two years to get back, I was in Burma and Singapore and came back to Lewis in February 1947. I spent some time in the Merchant Navy, after that I was weaving at home. Then for ten years I worked on the road for the County Council until I retired. There is nobody left on the Valtos peninsula that served in the war except myself. There were no good times then.”

The picture shows Donald Macdonald (Domhnall Daoighear) and his wife Christina nee Maciver with their five sons, who served in World War Two. The picture was taken by a relative on 3 September 1939, the Sunday afternoon war was declared. This was to be the last time the family were together.